Must Anarchists Be Dogmatists? 5

The first time I ever heard the term “anarchist” was in 1983, when I was a senior in high school. My English Lit. textbook included a unit on the British poet Percy Byshe Shelley and the brief biographical synopsis of Shelley mentioned that he had been the son-in-law of William Godwin, an “anarchist”. As a consistent “D” student, I wasn’t much inclined towards textbooks, but I remember being somewhat bemused to discover there were actually people called “anarchists”.

Five years later, much had changed. I had gone from high school stoner (think the Sean Penn character in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”) to full blown outlaw to inmate to parolee to college student to dropout and drifter. Along the way, I starting getting interested in radical left-wing politics. Still not sure why. Probably because it was what I was around at the time (thank God it wasn’t the Branch Davidians). Having grown up a good church-going, God-fearing, flag-waving Republican, I probably figured it was a good way to flip off everyone from where I came from. Problem was I really didn’t like most leftists I met all that much. They reminded very much of the uptight Bible-bangers I grew up around. Just a bunch of do-gooders, know-it-alls, moralistic prigs and pharisees. I didn’t like liberals. I didn’t like Commies. I remembered having once heard of anarchists, so I looked them up in the encyclopedia and found entries on classical anarchism, Proudhon, syndicalism, Sacco and Vanzetti, all the rest. So I decided I was an anarchist and have been one ever since. Why am I an anarchist?

1. I agree with the Augustinian view of the state as a robber band writ large.
2. I agree with the Stirnerite view of political obligation. Why should I obey this guy just because he’s the president, king, mayor, etc.?
3. I agree that democracy is a system where five wolves and sheep vote on what to have for lunch.
4. I agree that the death and destruction perpetrated by states make that of individual criminals look trivial by comparison.
5. I agree with George Bernard Shaw that democracy replaces the rule of the corrupt few with the rule of the incompetent many.
6. I agree that the state exists to monopolize territory and resources, protect an artificially privileged ruling class, expand its own power and subjugate and exploit subjects.
7. I agree with Hayek that the worst gets to the top.
8. I agree that the insights of social psychology show that most people are creatures of the herd.
9. I agree that the herd is the permanent enemy of the superior individual.
10. I agree that values are subjective, that life is ultimately a war of each against all, and that survival of the fittest and the will to power are the only true laws.

So, yes, it would certainly seem that I qualify as an anarchist. I admire Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman, Berkman, De Cleyre, Malatesta, Durrutti, Mahkno, Foucault, Chomsky, Tolstoy, Karl Hess, Murray Rothbard, Murray Bookchin, Albert Jay Nock, Voltairine de Cleyre, the Spanish anarcho-syndicalists, the French Situationists, the Yippies, and a newer tendency called the National-Anarchists.

That being said, I’ve often wondered why so many people who claim to be “anarchists” are such complete and total assholes. Spend any time around anarchists and one of the very first things you will notice is the addiction many of them have to excommunicating heretics from their own ranks. Deviate by two percent from the articles of faith of any particular Church of Anarchy and you will surely experience the wrath of the Inquisition. Anarchists are much like Protestants in this respect.

So how are we going to go about fighting the state? Here’s a few suggestions:

1. Build a strategic alliance of all those seeking to decentralize state power for whatever reason. In recent years, Kirkpatrick Sale has been putting together a federation of those who want their region to secede from the US empire, whether the Second Vermont Republic, the League of the South, the Christian Exodus Project, the Republic of Texas and the Free State Project.

2. Build a coalition of all those who are in agreement about the biggest issues of our time: shutting down the US empire and countering the Neocons’ foreign policy agenda, averting eventual economic collapse, rolling back the police state, and shutting down the war on drugs.

3. Develop an economic outlook that moves past the Big Government/Big Business paradigm, attacking them both as part of the system.

4. Build coalitions of interest groups who are under attack by the state but who otherwise have nothing in common into an alliance against the state. This is how the Democrats and Republicans do it. These might include smokers, gun owners, drug users, Confederate flag wavers, tax resisters, anti-NAFTA union members, prisoner advocates, homeless advocates, the mentally ill, blacks fed up with police brutality, whites fed up with affirmative action and victimology, students fed up with tyrannical prison-schools, sex workers, Holocaust-deniers (no, I’m not one of them), civil libertarians, counterculturalists, homeschoolers, religious fundamentalists, the list of enemies of the state goes and on and on.

The triumph of movements composed of such coalitions would have the effect of rolling back the state in ways that would make Goldwater Republicans look like Communists. And the High Priests of Anarchy would oppose such efforts every step of the way.

Over the years, I have come to the conclusion that the struggle against the modern Big Brother state will, if it is to ever become successful, take place outside the realm of the particular sects of Anarchy.

5 comments

  1. Coincidentally, I started my new blog about the same time as yours. (I am the attack_the_system member formerly known as Joyful Strife.)My background is also similar to yours. I began as a youthful rebel, then found that most of the rebels were as morally and intellectually authoritarian as the establishment.You have to be square to be hip, it would seem.Re; the coalition of antistatist “special interests” –do you think this is like turning Public Choice theory inside-out?

  2. Hi, Good to hear from you again. Checked out your blog. Awesome! Glad you’re here.Yeah, an inversion of public choice theory is a good way to put it. In fact, that’s where I drew the idea from. It’s not a perfect approach, but it seems well-grounded in the way US politics actually works.

  3. Good post.I agree that the Holier than thou attitude is bad.I know a lot of anarchists. Some of those anarchists work within the system to reduce taxes, penalties on certain crimes etc.. the infighting is worse than the fighting with the statists.www.freestateproject.org is a great place get people to concentrate.

  4. Keith,

    This might be weird to say what I’m gonna say here so long after the original post, instead of bringing it up on the forum, but somehow dredging up an old post onto the forum seems weirder, so here goes:

    I’m with you on your general outlook and conclusions. Especially about the “High Priests of Anarchy,” most of the people within any given sect are pretty dogmatic and seem to negate “real world” activity by petty squabbling.

    Of anything I’ve ever read, I think that your suggestions towards fighting the state in this post, and your extensive writings on strategy in general, are probably about the best chance there is for actually achieving something like “anarchism” in the real world. I don’t mean to suck up, I’m just saying, I think I have a pretty good critical eye and that’s my assessment.

    However, I have reservations about a few things. Of your ten reasons that you’re an anarchist, I share the first seven, but I’m not so sure about the last three. Here’s a few questions:

    What do you mean by “creatures of the herd”?

    If values are subjective, and I’m in ferocious agreement with you on that one, by what standard is any given human “superior” to others?

    Who is a superior individual anyway?

    And, I guess what’s kind of the big issue for me is your statement that life is a war of each against all. I think it might be that line of argument, about life being all about survival of the fittest and struggle, especially if it’s the struggle of the allegedly superior individual against the formless, corrupt, weakling mass of most humanity or something, that causes the leftoids, anarcho and otherwise, to call you a fascist. Life as permanent warfare, social darwinism, those were some of the tenets of fascism, right?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you’re a fascist. That’s utterly ridiculous. I read your articles “Am I a Fascist?” and “It’s Time for Anarchists to Can Reactionary Leftism” a few years ago and they made me take a goddamn hard look at myself. I don’t see future guillotines and crematoria glistening in your theory or something. I do think that maybe that in a sort of Taoist, unity of opposites kind of way, fascism and anarchism are united that there are no laws other than those of nature, that “the struggle” is ultimately physical. Maybe just because nothing “exists” outside of “physics.” If that seems like an overly “New Agey” statement, well, I’m having trouble expressing it otherwise.

    But, even if life is a war, a possibility I’m prepared to admit, does it have to stay that way? The way I see it, every halfway decent social organization humans have come up with has been based on ENDING the “war of each against all,” from the Three Musketeers (“all for one and one for all”) to the I.W.W. (“an injury to one is an injury to all.”) One might argue that that’s a “herd creature’s” mentality, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

    I know it’s a novel and not exactly a textbook on anarchist theory, but there’s a part in The Dispossessed that kind of illustrates what I’m talking about. The physicist Shevek, when challenged with the statement that the law of evolution is the survival of the strongest, he replies, “Yes, and the strongest, in the existence of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical.”

    What say you?

  5. Thanks for your questions, Josh.

    If you read this essay it might help clarify my views on this a bit:

    https://attackthesystem.com/our-struggle-is-neither-moral-nor-intellectual-but-physical/

    -What do you mean by “creatures of the herd”?

    This is based on a theory of psychology that I generally hold to that recognizes a hierarchy personalities among the human species. There’s most people, “the herd”, who get their ideas and direction in life, their sense of “right and wrong” and so forth from cues taken from leader, peers, the norms of their primary reference groups and generally approved points of views. The nature of most people is to “follow the leader” or “follow the crowd”. Then there’s a much smaller group of people we might call “the wolves” who are typically more intelligent, perceptive, self-seeking, cunning and ruthless than others. It’s these who usually become societal or institutional leaders or authority figures-Hayek’s “worst getting to the top”. These people are typically concerned only with wealth, power and pleasure. Then there’s what I called the “superior individual” (something like Ernst Junger’s “anarch” or Nietzsche’s “ubermensch”) that rises above both the herd and the wolves. Such a person is neither a passive conformist like most people nor a predator seeking to subjugate or exploit others like most leaders. Instead, such a person is a person of intelligence, perception, intuition, a greater capacity for knowledge acquistion, an ability to think independently of groupthink without falling into crude egocentrism or sociopathy. This has been referred to as the “promethean spirit”.

    -If values are subjective, and I’m in ferocious agreement with you on that one, by what standard is any given human “superior” to others?

    It’s not so much about any set of values as much as how one relate’s to others and the world around you. How you perceive the world and your place in it. How you function as a conscious being.

    -Who is a superior individual anyway?

    I think I answered that above.

    -And, I guess what’s kind of the big issue for me is your statement that life is a war of
    -each against all. I think it might be that line of argument, about life being all about
    -survival of the fittest and struggle, especially if it’s the struggle of the allegedly
    -superior individual against the formless, corrupt, weakling mass of most humanity
    -or something, that causes the leftoids, anarcho and otherwise, to call you a fascist.
    -Life as permanent warfare, social darwinism, those were some of the tenets of
    -fascism, right?

    Well, the leftoids call everyone fascist. These are simply descriptions of how things work, not prescriptions for any kind of political outlook or social system, whether anarchist or fascist or anything else.

    -But, even if life is a war, a possibility I’m prepared to admit, does it have to stay that
    -way?

    Yes, I think it’s permanent.

    -The way I see it, every halfway decent social organization humans have come up
    -with has been based on ENDING the “war of each against all,” from the Three
    -Musketeers (”all for one and one for all”) to the I.W.W. (”an injury to one is an injury
    -to all.”)

    But there’s still always an outgroup. The 3 M’s were actually sword fighters. The IWW practiced solidarity among the Wobblies, the unions, or even the proletariat as a whole, but the bourgeoisie was still “the Other”.

    -The physicist Shevek, when challenged with the statement that the law of evolution
    -is the survival of the strongest, he replies, “Yes, and the strongest, in the existence
    -of any social species, are those who are most social. In human terms, most ethical.”

    -What say you?

    I’m not so sure ethics can be objectively defined. I suspect there’s probably all sorts of reasons why some survive and some don’t, ranging from the weather to individual psychological makeup to topography to genetics.

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